Two Views of the Tester Bill
Thanks to Matthew Koehler for finding this..
Missoula Independent December 22, 2011
Nada for collaborators: Tester’s forest act isn’t sleeping–it’s dead
by George Ochenski
It’s the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. Trees are up and lights are twinkling to fend off the darkness, as gifts are exchanged to bring cheer in this holiday season. But there won’t be one gift for the small band of collaborators who support Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. That rider was struck from the bill to fund the federal government, and it’s unlikely to see the light of day again. On the other hand, for many, and for reasons beyond partisan politics, that’s something to celebrate.
The story is long and ugly. Way back when Republican Conrad Burns was Montana’s junior U.S. senator, a handful of people from a few conservation groups decided they needed to find some way to pass a new wilderness bill for Montana. Montana’s senior senator, Max Baucus, a Democrat, was in a great position to do it, but he was too timid to wade into the contentious wilderness debate.
It’s customary in Congress that before any state wilderness measure is passed, the delegation from that state must agree on it. So the die was cast for Burns, who had ridden into office thanks in part to President Ronald Reagan’s pocket veto of a 1988 wilderness bill that had successfully passed both houses of Congress. Reagan vetoed it in order to defeat incumbent Democratic Senator John Melcher, by showing the power Burns carried with a sitting president while still a candidate. It worked.
Knowing that the chance of Burns losing his seat would be almost non-existent, since incumbent U.S. senators typically have the money, connections and power they need to stay in office, the small band of collaborators set out to devise a wilderness bill that could satisfy Burns. To get even some slivers of new wilderness, the conservationists decided they needed to give up swaths of forested lands to the timber industry, give up roadless areas to destruction by all-terrain vehicles and even give away Wilderness Study Areas that were protected by the visionary Wilderness Study Act of 1977, which had been sponsored by Montana’s great Democratic senator and wilderness supporter, Lee Metcalf. And so the first incarnation of what would become the basis for Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was born as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership.
But then the unexpected happened. Somehow, Jon Tester, a state senator, unseated Conrad Burns in the 2006 elections by a hair-thin margin of 3,000 votes. Many would say those votes came from supporters of Paul Richards, a candidate in the Democratic primary who dropped out of the race only days before the election and urged his supporters to vote for Tester in both the primary and the general election. Richards did so based on a meeting with Tester to get his personal assurance that all roadless lands would be protected and that no significant natural-resource legislation would be attempted as a rider on unrelated bills. Tester promised Richards it would be so.
Shortly after Tester’s victory, the conservationists presented him with the agreement they had reached “collaboratively” with a few small timber mill owners that, among other things, contained mandated levels of timber harvests from national forests—just as the housing market collapsed and the demand for timber vanished.
Up to this time, the general public had been excluded from the collaboration and remained so up until the time Tester dropped his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in the hopper. A measure designed to please a Republican senator and Republican president was now embraced and defended by a Democratic senator under a Democratic president.
The way legislation is supposed to work in Congress is that a bill is introduced in either the Senate or House while a similar measure is introduced in the other chamber. There are public hearings in both chambers. If both bills pass, Congress irons out the differences and sends the reconciled bill to the president.
But that didn’t happen with Tester’s bill. Instead, thanks to the public land giveaways and the dangerous precedent of congressionally mandated harvest levels on national forest lands, Tester’s bill never made it out of committee. No companion bill was introduced in the House.
So Jon Tester broke his promise to Richards and tried to slip his measure through Congress by attaching it as a rider to an unrelated “must pass” funding bill. Ironically, one of Tester’s most damaging attacks against Burns during his campaign was for using riders to pass significant legislation.
Last Christmas, Tester tried to slip his rider by Congress on an end-of-year government funding measure, but failed. This year, he did the same thing and failed again. Democrats are quick to blame Republican U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg for that failure, but the measure deserved to fail, both for its ramifications and the way its passage was attempted.
As the campaign for Tester’s seat garners national attention, it looks like the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which didn’t even have the guts to mention “wilderness” in the title, is kaput. There’s no chance House Republicans will pass it.
Perhaps this is karma from Tester’s broken promise to a fellow candidate whose supporters’ votes helped give Tester his win. Or maybe the spirit of Lee Metcalf is saying, “Hands off my wilderness study areas.” But one thing seems certain: The collaborators will get no Christmas present this year, and likely none in the foreseeable future.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political.
And this one from the Missoulian by Rob Chaney was sent by Terry Seyden.
Tester: Congress could learn from supporters of defeated forest jobs bill
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian
SEELEY LAKE – Congress could learn a lot from supporters of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told a roomful of timber workers and environmentalists here Wednesday.
“The only folks who hate this bill are to the far right or the far left,” Tester told the people gathered at Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. “Once we get this done, it puts a whole different model out there that can work in the forests. It can be replicated just about everywhere.”
Tester’s unusual wilderness and logging bill failed last week to remain part of the Senate version of the $1.2 trillion omnibus budget package. The bill combines a new timber management plan with provisions to create about 1 million acres of wilderness and recreation areas in Montana.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who is challenging Tester for his Senate seat in next year’s election, took credit for keeping the bill out of the omnibus legislation. He argued last week that the legislation guaranteed wilderness but didn’t guarantee jobs, saying “it’s not a fair deal for Montanans.”
On Wednesday, Rehberg spokesman Jed Link said the congressman had co-sponsored a better way to create jobs in the timber industry through the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, “which would open millions of acres across the West for multiple use, including a little responsible timber in appropriate areas.”
“The idea that the only way to put Montanans to work in our forest is to carve out a bunch of new wilderness is just not honest,” Link said. “Senator Tester seems to be under the mistaken notion that Denny Rehberg is the only person in Montana who opposes his legislation. The simple fact is, if he really wanted to generate broad support for his legislation, he’d be out listening to the folks in Montana who have honest concerns about his bill and be open to their common-sense improvements.”
Tester’s Forest Jobs Act grew out of logging and wilderness compromises worked out on three separate national forests in Montana: the Lolo, Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai. In all three places, timber mill workers, conservationists and environmentalists drafted plans to free up access to marketable trees and protect wild areas.
The collaboration angered some other environmental groups who claimed the timber mandates were excessive and shouldn’t be linked to wilderness designations. Some multiple-use and ranching groups complained their access to trails and grazing lands would be reduced.
During the 2 1/2 years the bill was reviewed in Congress, Tester made several revisions to make it easier for the U.S. Forest Service to work with the logging requirements, while clarifying places where motorcycles and snowmobiles could play.
“How do we reframe this debate?” Pyramid controller Loren Rose asked Tester at the Seeley Lake meeting. “Denny keeps talking about its wilderness, and you keep talking about jobs. We’ve found it’s not that hard to sit at the table and work on those together.”
“I’ve been involved with this for five or six years, and been to more than 100 meetings,” said Bruce Farling of Trout Unlimited. “The one thing everybody said was they liked seeing people who’d always been at odds now working together. I think 90 percent of Montanans want something like this.”
During a tour of Pyramid’s sawmills, Tester said the logging mandates were necessary to keep jobs in places like Seeley Lake. The Forest Service’s current methods of offering timber for sale aren’t working, he said, as evidenced by places like Colorado where almost all sawmills have gone out of business.
“When you lose all that infrastructure, that doesn’t do anybody any good,” Tester said. “And then when you need management, the taxpayer gets hooked with an even bigger bill if we don’t do something sooner rather than later.”
Tester said he expected his bill would again be attached to some larger piece of legislation, rather than passing on its own. Asked how he would overcome the opposition of Rehberg, he said he was working to build relationships with other House Republicans.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me to stop it unless you stop it for political reasons,” Tester said. “Rehberg is on record (opposing this). We just need to influence Dennis in a way that makes sense for these communities.”